Wow! So people seem to really love the writing advice that I posted a few days ago. I want to give an extra big THANK YOU to everyone who reached out to me. There has been more than a little twirling here at Casa de Marni.
And then I realized something very important…
ALL of my advice was geared for aspiring authors. It’s the stuff that I wish someone had told me when I was starting out. I wouldn’t have shared this post if I didn’t think it was still applicable, but…each level of publishing has its own unique challenges. And I want to take a crack at some of the pressing issues that my author friends are dealing with right now.
So here’s The Best Writing Advice I REALLY Don’t Feel Qualified to Give… (The Mid-list Edition.)
1. Accept that most days your books will feel pretty irrelevant.
If someone (*cough* the nice neighborhood barista *cough*) says, “Uh…yeah! I think I’ve heard of your book!” there’s a small part of your brain that begins to shriek…
But it’s okay! Let’s face it, flying under the radar might even be for the best. If they had read your book they might expect you to, y’know…speak in complete sentences.
And before I have coffee, this is my idea of witty banter…
It’s not pretty, friends. It’s just not.
2. You will never master ALL the social media tools.
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Tumblr. YouTube. Goodreads. Pinterest. Amazon Author Central. Book trailers. Giveaways. Blogging.
Just listing them probably makes you feel guilty.
Especially since you’re supposed to keep up on popular culture, too. Jennifer Lawrence gets a haircut? You’ve seen it. Mindy Kaling gives an interview? You’ve read it.
You spend an eternity trying to prove yourself as a sparkling conversationist in 140 characters or less…only to make an enormous grammatical gaffe. Then you rush to delete the tweet, except someone has already “favorited” it.
So…you debate sending out a repeat tweet that fixes the mistake or pretending to be charmingly blasé about the whole thing.
Oh that? HAHAHAHA…I was distracted by pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch.
Then you post the pics because obviously he will fix everything for you.
The crazy part is that ALL of this is supposed to look effortless. You’re supposed to have .gifs for any occasion, but it shouldn’t take time. Obviously, this is the reason you’re a mid-lister. If only you spent this much energy on your writing you would be a New York Times Bestseller!
At least, that’s what the majority of your family members will tell you.
Except here’s the annoying truth: Social media expectations will never disappear, especially in an age when author outreach is generally considered the most powerful form of promotion. What’s worse, your image is one of the few things in this industry that you can pretend to control. Book deals, marketing strategies, movie options…you have no say in these things.
Heck, even the next book deal is out of your hands!
So you have to find a way to balance social media duties with writing deadlines and, hopefully, a personal life.
If you figure out how to do this, please let me know. I tend to update madly for a few days and then become so overwhelmed that I start binge-watching TV shows on Hulu.
3. Don’t buy into your own image.
You aren’t the person you portray on social media. There are certain things you should never make public because nerd rage is a very real thing.
The fastest way to activate it is to say that you don’t get what’s so special about Firefly.
Sometimes your sense of public and private will become blurry. Case in point: I was once told that I didn’t sound as awkward in my blog posts as I claimed to be in real life.
That took me aback for a second. And then I realized…yeah, you’re right! Because I don’t always want to publicize my screw-ups and mistakes. In fact, sometimes I get downright uncomfortable posting about my life. There was one night during my semester abroad in Australia when I experienced something incredible, mystical, borderline spiritual, and I instantly thought, “This would make a great blog post!” I promised myself right then and there that I wouldn’t treat my life as blog post fodder.
I’ve broken that pledge more times than I would like to admit.
So I’m going to repeat this point–for myself, mostly–your life is NOT defined by your online presence.
4. Your friends will not always want to pimp your book stuff.
You don’t want to retweet everything they do either, right? So don’t start blog posts with the expectation that every one of your witty, clever, effortlessly media-savvy friends will reblog, repost, or regurgitate the advice you thought sounded smart when you wrote it at 2am.
This being the notable exception. Right guys?!
5. Accept that there WILL be times when you come across as desperate.
At some point, you will offer to mention your friend’s book in the comment section of a vlogbrothers YouTube video…if they’ll do the same for you. Or maybe you’ll create Wikipedia pages for each other!
All the while you’ll pretend that it doesn’t look like this…
Same goes for Amazon/Goodreads/Audible reviews. We’ve all been there. It’s inevitable. Someday you will see strangers working on library computers and you’ll be tempted to ask them to give your work five stars.
You won’t bother them, of course. But mostly because the library is your second home and you don’t want the very nice librarians to physically escort you out.
6. You will get really, REALLY tired of hearing about John Green.
Actually, Laurie Halse Anderson did a brilliant job addressing this here! SPOILER ALERT: Her frustration isn’t with John Green. You should read it. Frankly, you should read everything she says because she’s a unicorn.
I promised to stop calling her that though, so let’s keep it between us.
I’m sure John Green is totally fantastic. I just wish that it were possible to have a discussion on YA fiction without spending a solid five minutes on him. It’s not though. Partly because people like me feel the need to discuss his influence here.
*Shakes fist at self*
7. You’ll be tempted to become controversial.
I think one of the hardest parts about being a mid-lister is that you can catch glimpses at bestsellerdom and you think, “Man, if I networked to my highest potential, that could be me!” Then you realize that if you spent that much time voicing your opinions, inevitably something incredibly stupid will slip out. Being controversial suddenly sounds like a silver bullet.
If I mention Author X loudly enough, it will get me attention!
This is how good people become trolls.
(And yes, I am fully aware that including #6 might make me a hypocrite. Just because I’m giving this advice doesn’t mean I always know how to take it. Should I have skipped #6 entirely? At what point does discussing a controversial issue become link-bait or trolling? I honestly don’t know. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section!)
8. Bullying is very real. And it sucks.
The writing community is an incredible place that includes the warmest, smartest, most fiercely loyal people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. And I’d like to point out that I’m not just talking about authors here. Editors, agents, reviewers, bloggers, librarians, conference coordinators…the passion, dedication, and heart that I’ve seen from all of these people, it’s incredible.
But there is still plenty of behind-the-scenes bullying that takes place every day.
Genre-bashing is nothing new, but somehow when it comes from inside the community it feels a billion times worse. Sometimes professional jealousy gets the best of people. It’s hard not to see it as a competition. As I mentioned in my other post, we’ve pretty much been trained to believe that there are a limited number of spaces available and that for us to reach our full potential, we’ll have to beat out somebody else. Publishing doesn’t actually work that way though. Your friend’s glorious, oh-my-freaking-god, seven figure book deal doesn’t have anything to do with the manuscript you’ve got on submission. The best course of action (which is excruciatingly hard sometimes!) is to keep your eyes on your own page.
9. You will survive bad reviews.
That said, I’ll never forget seeing my debut novel described as, “The devil’s way of poisoning young minds.” What confused me most was receiving 3/5 stars from that same reviewer!
To this day, I’m baffled.
Then again, I know someone who received a 3/10 from a reader who said that a perfect score was The Holy Bible. I’m not sure how that compares to, y’know…a romance novel. All that begetting could be a little steamy, I suppose.
The surest way to maintain your sanity is to laugh your way through it. Or maybe that’s just my technique. Here’s a solid pro tip though: NEVER confront the reviewer.
Even when it hurts. Even when you have to call up your friend to ask if they secretly think your book sucks too. Even when you think that there’s been a slight misunderstanding that could totally be cleared up with a tweet…
If someone shares a negative review to you, either say nothing or thank them for taking the time to read your work. Then step away from the laptop.
Here’s what you do next: Remind yourself that book bloggers are made of awesome. Reviewers are people who care so passionate about books that they can’t wait to tell the whole world about the one they just read! That’s amazing!
There shouldn’t be conflict between authors and reviewers. We should be holding hands while cartoon birds flit above us and daffodils burst into full bloom. We should be so sickeningly cute that everyone outside the writing community is disgusted by our unwavering adoration of each other.
I’m going to hazard a guess as to why that’s not actually the case.
Just because I love reviewers doesn’t mean I can read their work.
In fact, I can’t.
I’ve learned that I don’t trust myself with reviews, even glowingly awesome ones. They make me feel great for a few seconds, and then suddenly the project in front of me looks extra crappy. And yeah, I’ve been known to obsess over a particularly bad review for a few days. The way I see it, no matter how many stars I’m given, it interferes with my productivity.
I really wish I could read reviews without messing up my head. I don’t blame that on the bloggers. I also don’t blame my inability to listen to the audiobook version of my novels on the narrators. They are awesome. I am the one who panics over hearing my words said aloud.
And you know what? THAT’S OKAY.
I am a firm believer in doing what you have to do to protect your mental health. If a visit to Goodreads could activate some kind of emotional time-bomb inside you, don’t go there.
If you can read a review and think, “Oh wow! That’s such an interesting point. I’m going to make sure that I avoid that mistake in my next book!”…well, that’s awesome. Then it’s a real opportunity for growth and improvement.
My recommendation is to get a review/rejection buddy who will shower you with .gifs to get you through the hard times. And to know that avoiding reviews doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t mean you need to toughen up. It means that you are taking your mental health seriously.
In this profession that’s an incredibly wise thing to do.
10. Please remember that you’re awesome.
It’s shockingly easy to forget that once upon a time, this was the dream. Maybe because now it feels like we spend most of our energy simply trying to stay relevant instead of writing.
But the truth is that you did something awesome. You wrote a book. And against all the odds, you even got it published. That is an accomplishment that nobody can take away from you!
Even Ron Swanson wants to celebrate with you.
So hang in there, fellow mid-listers!
P.S. If this was useful to you, please let me know! I’m willing to post writing advice here every Monday if that’s something people seem interested in reading. So feel free to leave a comment here…or on my FB author page…or you could send a tweet…basically, unless you want to use Morse Code, I should be able to get your message!